A Night of Disaster and A New Beginning:

1974-1975

burn

The gala Homecoming celebration at Covington High School was on October 10, 1974. As alumni, students and faculty joined together to renew old associations and appreciate the benefits the old school had brought them, none realized that in just a few weeks the old building would be gone forever. Memories would remain, but the dancing couples were unknowingly giving the 50-year old school its last hurrah.1

The lead article in the St. Tammany Farmer of October 14, 1974 was as follows:

FIRE DESTROYS HIGH SCHOOL

Covington High School was destroyed by fire on Sunday morning and the event was witnessed by hundreds of spectators who gathered in the chilly early morning air to see the end of the longtime educational institution.

Investigator's from the fire marshall's office were at the scene Tuesday morning sifting through the debris, but was unable to come up with a definite origin. Early reports about the boiler exploding were not substantiated when the boiler was found intact. The fire did begin on the second floor at the front of the building, however.

The blaze was reported at 11:50 p.m. Saturday and 27 men from the Covington Fire Depatment were joined by volunteers from Mandeville, Abita Springs, and Madisonville in an eight hour effort to contain the blaze. The library, cafeteria and shop buildings in the rear of the building were saved, it was said, even though some of the school board records were removed in fear the blaze would spread. Officials were relieved to find an old athletic record book and several old yearbooks were not damaged seriously, even though the vault they were in stood amid the worst of the debris.

The building was 50 years old and had schooled several generations of Covington youth. Many residents who learned of the fire were saddened when they recalled their days of high school there.

Superintendent C. J. Schoen said that in a way the timing of the fire was fortunate, seeing how it was during the weekend instead of a busy school day. "There is no telling what may have happened if it had been during the week," he commented."2

 

Both Mr. Wagner, principal, and Mrs. Patricia Massoth, then librarian, tell how they were awakened by phone calls telling of the fire. Mrs. Massoth called her father who had been a student here to accompany her. She grabbed her keys since she felt she might have to throw library books out the window. When they arrived the fire was out of control. Mr. Wagner tried to get into the offices, but the fire was too close. He did get in the back where the business department was, but even there the smoke was so heavy he had to leave. Along with two or three hundred others they stayed the night dazed and hardly believing what they saw. The crowd was so quiet it might have been a funeral prye they were attending. Fire hoses entwined a two or three block area as the firemen worked valiantly. So much water was used it was feared that the low pressure would force them to desist. They did use all the water in the water tower, and almost all of the reservoir.

debris

The outbuildings, library, and cafeteria were saved, but the main school with its oiled and waxed and reoiled and rewaxed floors was a complete loss. Many could not restrain their tears as they watched the demise of Covington High.3

The next day the School Board set about making plans to meet the emergency. A new Covington High School was in the process of construction on Highway 190 West and scheduled to be occupied in September 1975. It was thought at first that it might be possible to move in a few more weeks. However, the decision was made to stay at the old school site rather that attempting to move immediately.4

unbelief

The faculty agreed on makeshift arrangements, put on work clothes and diligently cleared out, cleaned up, dusted off furniture that was brought in, and organized and set up classrooms. Emergency textbooks were brought in and two portable classrooms. With the agreement of the principal of Covington Elementary seven to eight classes were held there. The Knights of Columbus Hall bordering the football field was used for three Home Economics classes. In the undamaged school buildings they put two classes in the library; two in the audiovisual room; four in the gym; two in the gym lobby; one in the team teaching room; and three or four in the cafeteria.

Some of the insurance money was used to put a fence around the burned out section and knock down remaining walls. Classes were resumed within one week.5

Mrs. Massoth says that a lot was learned in those classrooms--alot about cooperation, sharing and taking care of one another. While it was hectic, school sprit was high and everyone pitched in to make it all work. The assistant principals had bicycles so they could check on classes in the various outlying areas. There were no class bells so watches had to be consulted for dismissal and class times. In the library Mrs. Massoth managed to order books, have a teacher's lounge (coffee area), helped student with research papers and all the while four classes were being taught. Three English and one Speech classes were divided only by thin partitions. Sometimes a student in one class would ask a question only to have it answered by the teacher in one of the nearby classes who thought it was one of her students who had asked the question.6

From November to May teachers and students struggled under these conditions. After school was out during the summer, the move was made to the new building. Using the insurance money, already an additon of fourteen classrooms was being added to the new school, but they weren't completed until the following January. In the meantime, the $1.7 million new school had only 36 teaching stations to accommodate about 1,000 students. The old school had offered 46 classrooms, and the present student body was 1,100.7

new

The new concrete block walls were rought and bare; the raw grounds unshaded. The traditions and memories that had impregnated the old school were missing. Covington High School still had its roots firmly implanted in the community. The new school would grow and change just as the old one had, but, in essence, it would still be the same.




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